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N.Y. mobilizes more than 2,300 Guardsmen to battle Hurricane Sandy aftermath

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New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo mobilized more than 2,300 Soldiers and Airmen by Oct. 30, to assist local communities and first responders for the forecasted storm surge and floods associated with Subtropical Storm Sandy's landfall, Oct. 29.

From eastern Long Island to New York City up to the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier, Capital Region and even out to Western New York, units stood up troops and vehicles to better support county response efforts as the expansive storm approached New York.

On Long Island, some 250 Soldiers of a task force built around the 102nd Military Police Battalion employed Humvees and Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles,or FMTVs, to extract first responders or residents caught in the rapidly rising waters of the storm's path.

The Soldiers in Farmingdale were joined by 150 Airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing based at the New York Air National Guard facility at Westhampton Beach. The large Long Island response force was part of an initial call-up of more than 1,100 troops by the governor to link with county, city and state emergency operations centers and stage for response missions.

The battalion headquarters, based in Auburn, in Central New York, deployed a task force as part of the New York National Guard's coastal storm response plan, providing initial forces in the path of Subtropical Storm Sandy from outside the affected areas. Those initial numbers of available troops increased in a day as the storm's potential impact grew.

Cuomo doubled the number of National Guard forces Oct. 29 to match the storm's potential swath of damage and flooding.

"The extent of the storm surge -- it's already high and at [Tropical Storm] Irene levels," Cuomo said at a press conference Oct. 29 as the storm's landfall approached during an unusually high tide and full moon.

Cuomo said the National Guard will "make sure we have all the resources we need to deal with the surge and the damage from the surge."

From armories, air bases and readiness centers across the state, some 2,200 Airmen and Soldiers loaded vehicles and readied to respond in the final hours before Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the New Jersey coastline, creating a storm surge in New York City and Long Island of some 5-10 feet.

New York State closed all major bridges and tunnels in and around New York City during the storm's approach, as wind gusts above 60 miles per hour threatened bridge traffic and forces sea water into tunnels. Wall Street closed the exchange for the storm's arrival as did the federal government in Washington.

Communities along Long Island's north and south shore felt the impact of the storm well before that landfall. Soldiers using Humvees and the high axle Light Medium Tactical Vehicle, or LMTV, cargo trucks responded to county emergency managers to help with traffic safety, evacuations and in some cases, rescues of fellow responders from the rapidly rising waters along the south shore. Para-rescue personnel from the 106th Rescue Wing assisted the Atlantic Beach Fire Department with rescues of residents accessible only by watercraft.

"At the peak of the storm, we had 100 percent of our force and their vehicles out on the streets with first responders," noted Maj. Michael Fowler, the operations officer for the 102nd Military Police Battalion.

By daylight, on Oct. 30, the storm's track inland revealed the extent of damage to New York City and Long Island, with downed trees and an estimated 900,000 Long Island residents without power. Con Edison estimated that in New York City, 670,000 customers were also without power.

On Long Island, National Guard Soldiers sustained their effort in the hardest hit communities by keeping the trucks and Humvees in place and rotating forces in by bus, saving time and keeping the troops on mission overnight for as long as possible before their relief. The task force from Farmingdale supported more than 30 missions in the initial 24 hours, providing vehicle support to first responders and healthcare facilities and assistance to New York State Police elements at Republic Airport.

Many missions involved partnering with local law enforcement or New York State Police Troopers to assist communities with traffic control or law enforcement movements using Humvees.

Other tasks involved moving or evacuating residents using the high axle FMTVs from damage stricken communities.

"Our LMTVs are the only vehicle that can make it, even with water up to the cab," said Capt Michael Sicinski, commander of Company F, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, during the National Guard support to resident evacuations in Long Beach.

"So far, the mission has been going great," Sicinski said. "We've managed to keep our vehicles on the mission sites and rotate our drivers and crews out from Farmingdale."

In New York City, 30 members of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, climbed 13 floors to the top of Bellevue Hospital to keep an emergency generator going. Ten gallons at a time, the citizen-Soldiers filled a 1,000 gallon tank powering the hospital's critical systems.

On Staten Island, Soldiers and Airmen of Joint Task Force Empire Shield, the New York National Guard's full-time security force in New York City, turned out overnight Oct. 29, to rescue 31 people, including a one-month-old baby, from buildings that were being flooded. The Soldiers and Airmen drove their pickup trucks through rising waters to pluck people from these collapsing structures, said Lt. Col. Peter Riley, the task force commander.

Also Oct. 29, para-rescue jumpers of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing manned zodiac inflatable boats to rescue five people, including a 19-month-old baby from a barrier island near Atlantic Beach. Airmen assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing also used their LMTV trucks to help local officials evacuate people from Fire Island.

With weather improving, New York National Guard aviation elements, grounded by Sandy's heavy rains and high winds, staged at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Ronkonkoma to give county emergency managers aerial assessments of damage.

By the end of Oct. 30, six UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopter were on Long Island ready to respond to missions. The UH-72 Lakota is equipped with a night-vision capable video system that can broadcast feeds to a ground station, allowing decision makers in county emergency operations centers and the New York State Emergency Operations Center in Albany to get a look at the situation from the air.

New York Air National Guard assets were also in the air Oct. 30. An HC-130 search and rescue aircraft assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing flew local emergency response officials over Long Island so they could assess the damage. An HH-60 Pave Hawk Rescue helicopter assigned to the wing was also ready for service.

The 107th and 109th Airlift Wing's of the New York Air National Guard flew three C-130 missions to move 130 Airmen to the Hudson Valley so they could deploy to New York City and Long Island. Meanwhile Airmen assigned to the 174th Attack Wing, ferried 40 desperately need Humvees from Fort Drum, N.Y., to Camp Smith, the National Guard training site near Peekskill, for further movement to New York City.

Other Guard elements which had been called up, the 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry, in western New York and the 204th Engineers, based along New York's Southern Tier of Counties, were ordered to move to Camp Smith as well to prepare for deployment in Long Island and New York City.

By the end of the day Oct. 30, almost 600 vehicles were involved in the response.

Article by Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National Guard and Eric Durr, New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs